2012-08-05

The impact of cuts on UK museums

The Museums Associations 2012 survey into cuts to museum services has laid bare the devastating impact that budget reductions are continuing to have across the UK. Out of 114 museum services and individual institutions that responded, 51% reported a cut to their budgets and almost a quarter have been forced to reduce public access by closing whole sites or parts of sites permanently or temporarily. 11% have closed whole sites permanently. 42% of respondents said there have been cuts to staff, with almost a fifth saying staffing levels were down 25% or more. Of the respondents that have experienced cuts in 2011 and 2012, over a third have seen a cumulative reduction of more than 35%.
One respondent said: The cuts pose serious risk to the care of collections as collections management time is reduced. Expert knowledge is also threatened, with cuts resulting in one person doing more than one job, or increasingly with volunteers 'replacing' paid staff.
31% of all respondents had experienced a cut of more than a tenth to their budget, with a knock-on effect on public services. Half of that group had introduced or increased charges for school visits.
One respondent said that reduced opening hours had forced the museum to shut during busy half-term periods, while others said they were scaling back outreach and development work.
But the survey revealed a sense of increased optimism in comparison to last year's results. The majority of respondents, 36%, said they expected their quality of service to increase in the coming year, compared to just 13% in 2011.
One museum director wrote: Paid staff now work well beyond their job descriptions just to keep things going, but there is a strengthened team spirit and a wish not to let cuts affect public service.
The survey also showed that museums are increasingly focused on diversifying income streams, with 69% planning to concentrate more on generating income over the next year and 62% increasing their fundraising activity.
MA director Mark Taylor said: Its not getting any better and in some cases its getting worse. Theres no prospect of an upturn any time soon. But the survey shows increased determination to improve services. Thats a reflection of the strength and commitment of the museum sector and people who work in it.
Maurice Davies, the MAs head of policy, said: There is a sense of people taking control of the situation rather than losing hope. This is borne out by the responses to our Museums 2020 campaign, where many people have taken a very active and ambitious view of the role of museums in the future.

A report for the Museums Association by Gina Evans
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